Research in Education


What Did You Do in School Today?

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Transcript of video

PENNY MILTON: What Did You Do In School Today is a national coordinated research and development initiative that is core to our focus on adolescent learners. The name: What Did You Do In School Today, immediately conveys to people what this is all about. That a) it is about the students. And secondly, we all know that many adolescent young people, when you ask them that question say: ‘not much' – or ‘nothing'.

ANITA SIMPSON: Secondary school students are not as engaged as we would have hoped and that poses a huge challenge for us as educators and begs the question: if they're not engaged then what are we going to do to ensure that that engagement goes up. Because we know in a world that we live in like today, they have to want to learn in order to be successful, both personally and professionally.

PENNY: Mobilizing people around this idea that kids should actually say: guess what I did in school today, that they should be excited about their learning is kind of inspirational to people.

NARRATION: The research partners are…
Canadian Education Association, the Canadian Council on Learning, Galileo Education Network, The Learning Bar and 15 school districts across Canada. The Canadian Education Association, Canadian Council on Learning and the participating school districts each provided one third of the funding.

These organizations worked together to embed research collaboration within schools, among school districts and across national networks.

ANITA: When you use research to help teachers understand their practice, they're much more likely to be engaged by the process, to find it valid, to find it credible. And it's incredibly motivating to get real data back about your school, your students and your community. Hearing from students directly about what it is that they find important to them has shifted our mindset and really inspired us to do more learning about those factors.

PENNY: The Edmonton Conference “engaged teachers, engaged learners”. Took us down the path of examining the relationship between teaching and learning. I mean if we are after engaged students then surely we need engaged teachers. And what does that look like?

STUDENT CLIP: It may take student initiative to say, “Could I try and do it this way? Could I try and do a project to demonstrate characterization in this novel because I have a really good idea.” And I think if the student feels they can approach their teacher and say those kinds of things, and hopefully then the teacher will kind of open up and say, “Hey, that is pretty cool. Why don't we try this as a class,” or something.

STUDENT CLIP: This whole process challenged me to step outside my comfort zone and actually ask a lot of questions relevant to the topic.

STUDENT CLIP: and challenging yourself reminds you, because…you'll always do some sort of challenge in your life…you'll be like, “Oh, I can run faster than you”. You'll always remember those kinds of times, and I think challenging yourself is really important to learn.

NARRATION: Some significant challenges have been experienced in the implementation of What did you do in school today? so far.

  1. Mediating the different interests of the research partners.
  2. Overcoming the barriers created by district personnel changes
  3. The challenge of orienting newcomers into the initiative.

PENNY: A partnership has to be about something that you can't do yourself. So it means that you have to bring together a variety of different interests. One of the early challenges was actually in developing the conceptual framework for the initiative. Part of our strategy is to bring the participating districts and schools together occasionally, to keep them in the network, such that those that may be less energetic actually see what others are doing.

ANITA: When teachers also realized that they and their school could develop a couple of questions that were particular to their site and some of the initiatives that their school community was working on, that really heightened the engagement factor.

PENNY: The Winnipeg Conference was the second annual district conference we've done. These are conferences restricted to a team of people from participating districts and they help us define the agenda. And this year's agenda at their request was a deeper focus on instructional development, instructional change.

STUDENT CLIP: So, our school has around twelve hundred people, so only 600 people are engaged, and the other half are not.

STUDENT CLIP: That's only half of the school that's intellectually engaged in their classes.

STUDENT CLIP: There's only 51%, so we have to get that number higher.

NARRATION: Collaboration occurs at many levels.

First, within schools, the Student Survey provides an opportunity for students to regularly share their experiences of engagement in schools and classrooms. This creates ongoing opportunities for staff (and students) to interpret and act upon the data and build new knowledge about student engagement in the context of their day-to-day practices.

Second, collaboration among schools within a district is possible. The initiative is driven by a clear set of ideas and objectives, but does not prescribe how districts participate.

Third, through a National Network, CEA has facilitated many opportunities to ensure that all levels of leadership are included in shaping and reflecting on the initiative.

ANITA: I believe this partnership worked so well because CEA was very, very collaborative, very supportive and allowed all of the participants some room to reflect who they are as part of the project.

PENNY: It really helps a school focus on the things that matter for their kids. So we've seen schools, for example, where suspension rates, where referrals to the office have dropped dramatically in a single year of focus on engaging the kids, in talking about what helps them learn and what needs to be different.

ANITA: My advice to others who are thinking about participating in collaborative research is to just do it. When minds come together to work on a common problem or a common inquiry question or a common pursuit, the learning that happens collaboratively is quite amazing.

PENNY: If you're interested in changing education, it's actually working with the people whose job it is to educate our young people that will get us where we want to go.